Death’s Bright Day – Snippet 22


DaSaenz Estate, Jardin

“There may be another way out,” said Miranda. Her voice was perfectly calm, but the fact that she’d spoken at all showed that she must think they were doomed.

“Oh, I think we’re all right,” Daniel said. He walked back to her, keeping his voice low. “You can stand on my shoulders, can’t you? Though I think we should wait a few minutes in case he’s waiting at the top.”

“Oh,” said Miranda. She hugged him fiercely. “I’m sorry I panicked. Yes, of course I can stand on your shoulders. Actually, with a boost I could probably jump through the opening; enough to get a hold, I mean.”

“I’d rather you just climbed up on me,” Daniel said. “I’ll worry less.”

It would be very easy for someone trying to jump through a hole in a stone ceiling to smash her elbow in this uncertain light. Several glowworms were on the rim of the opening, but even so it would be a tricky target.

After what he’d decided was a safe delay, Daniel walked with Miranda to the edge beneath the opening. He heard nothing from the level above.

The glowworms were softly attractive when he thought about them, but for the most part they were of no more interest than the curtains in a woman’s bedroom. He was smiling as he cupped his hands and said, “I’ve made a step.”

Miranda, facing him, put her left foot in the stirrup and raised her right onto his shoulder in the same motion. Daniel had expected her to steady herself by dabbing her hands against the wall behind him, but she hadn’t needed to do that.

Miranda brought her left foot up. For a moment Daniel was supporting her weight on both shoulders; then it was gone. The loose cuffs of her trousers brushed his ears as she lifted herself through the opening by her arms.

“The ladder’s still here,” she called. “I’m letting it down.”

Daniel stepped back with his hand up to catch the ladder when it dropped. Miranda let it down smoothly instead of just tossing it over to potentially whack him on the head. She was a girl in a thousand.

Daniel smiled. And I ought to know. Well, not a thousand.

Daniel pulled the ladder tight to be sure that it was still firmly attached, then mounted quickly. He didn’t like the way he swayed, but he wasn’t on the ladder long enough for that to matter.

When Daniel squirmed through the opening, he breathed a sigh of relief. “I kept thinking that daSaenz was really waiting up here and was going to clout me one as I put my head up,” he said. “Now all we have to worry about is a hike, and not so very long a hike either.”

“But Daniel?” Miranda said. “How will we find our way out?”

“The first thing Hogg taught me when we started going into the woods…” Daniel said. “Was how not to get lost. I was about three at the time.”

“But it’s dark?”

“Right,” Daniel said as he squirmed out of his tunic. “But it’s not pissing down rain, and we don’t have to worry about a million vine-wrapped trees which all look the same even in daylight. Which it usually wasn’t when we were checking the trap lines. Hogg being a poacher when he wasn’t giving me fatherly advice.”

He held out the tunic to her. “Here, take one sleeve and I’ll have the other,” he said. “That’s easier than holding hands.”

“I…” Miranda said. Then, obviously changing what she had intended to say, she said, “I’m very glad you can do that. I thought we were lost.”

“DaSaenz apparently didn’t expect it either,” Daniel said. “I suppose it’s not a skill which many Academy graduates share.”

He touched the rock wall with his outstretched hand. “I’ll wiggle through the hole here and take the tunic again on the other side,” he said. “There’s not much chance of you wandering off inside, is there?”

The passage through the rock was shorter and easier than Daniel remembered it being when he came the other way. Maybe he’d sweated off a few pounds. More likely it was just familiarity and the fact that going in this direction he had a clearly defined mission: to get out, and to settle accounts with Timothy daSaenz.

Daniel reached the end and waited in a hunching posture for Miranda to rejoin him. His fingers were spread at the edge of the opening to make contact.

Miranda’s fist came out, thrusting the tunic ahead. Daniel took the trailing sleeve and sidled down the passage, straightening as the height of the rock permitted him to.

“I’m not concerned about finding our way to the entrance,” Daniel said. “I haven’t figured out yet how we’ll open the door there, though. I didn’t see a way of opening it from the inside, but there must be one. DaSaenz didn’t intend to die here himself.”

He was talking so that Miranda wouldn’t be left with only her thoughts for company. He was used to moving in darkness — and a rainy night in the forest really was as dark as the interior of the caves — but she wasn’t. She trusted him, but chattering to her in positive fashion cost nothing.

“There was a call button at the elevator,” Miranda said. “DaSaenz told the guard that we’d be going up by that to the manor house.”

“We can try that,” Daniel said. “If that doesn’t work, we’ll go to the main entrance — careful here.”

His right little finger reached a branching; he was feeling his way along by very light contact with the wall, holding his hand high enough that a sudden dip in the ceiling wouldn’t take him by surprise.

They turned right and shortly turned left again. This put them in the great multi-lobed chamber Daniel remembered from when daSaenz brought them into the cave.

“As I said, we’ll go to the entrance and see what we find there,” he said. He was keeping to a normal walk — strolling, not trying to cover distance. The floor was smooth and clear of obstructions, and a purposeful pace would do as much to calm Miranda as his voice would.

Daniel wasn’t altogether comfortable either, to tell the truth. He’d seen his share of danger, but this was a new one.

“Worst case — here’s where we turn. It’s going to get narrow again, but we know where we’re going. Worst case, as I say, is that we’ll wait for a rescue party from the ship. In fact they may be waiting for us when we get to the anteroom.”

Daniel was being brightly cheerful, but it was true that he expected Hogg and the Sissies to come for them. That might not have helped if he and Miranda had been deep in the bowels of a labyrinth, though Daniel was pretty sure that if daSaenz’ mapping had been entrusted to a computer, Adele would eventually find it.

“We may get a little hungry, is all,” he added.

“I wonder if the glowworms are edible?” Miranda said. “At least gathering them will keep us busy.”

The sulfur will make our urine stink, Daniel thought. He didn’t say that aloud. Like eating asparagus.

“Of course we don’t have any water, so the sulfur won’t be much of a problem,” said Miranda in the same matter of fact voice as before.

“Are you reading my mind? Daniel said.

“Umm,” said Miranda. “We know each other pretty well, darling.”

Daniel reached the narrow crack which led to the elevator chamber and from there to the anteroom. He felt a rush of pleasure: they’re reached their goal, or almost. Though he’d never consciously doubted that he could lead them back, his present relief proved that his subconscious hadn’t been quite as certain.

“We’ve made it, love,” Daniel said. “I’m letting go of the tunic again.”

He got down on his belly and squirmed into the passage. The grit on the floor scraped him, and he was pretty sure that he’d rubbed through the skin on his right shoulder blade.

Cheap at the price. We’re getting out.

Daniel reached the square-cut section that acted as a foyer for the elevator and stood. He knew that was where he was, but for the first time he felt the darkness.

“I’m clear,” he called to Miranda, and he heard her rustle through the opening. He wondered how much blood from his shoulders was lubricating the rock by now.

Daniel found the elevator door and explored the smooth metal with the flat of his hands. He wondered in which direction it slid to open.

“It helps to remember it’s beige,” Miranda said from beside him. “It helps me.”

Then she said, “Here’s the call plate. There isn’t a button, that is, a mechanical one. I saw a black dot when we went by, but it must be painted.”

“Push the center,” Daniel said, leaning his ear against the door panel. “I’ll listen to see if I hear anything.”

“I’m pushing,” Miranda whispered.

The metal door gave no sign of anything. It was slightly cooler than the rock wall. Daniel couldn’t hear either mechanical noises or the possible sighing of air in the shaft beyond.

He straightened. “Well, I guess we’d better try the main entrance,” he said. “Nothing seems to be happening here. I’ll take the sleeve again.”

“I thought I heard something from that direction,” Miranda said. “A humming?”

“It could have been the hydraulic door,” Daniel said in sudden hope. “DaSaenz might not be very far ahead of us, you know.”

If DaSaenz hadn’t closed the door behind him, this was going to end more quickly than Daniel had dared to hope. Regardless, it meant that there was some way of getting out by the way they had come in. DaSaenz’ aircar was parked at this level, after all.

“Daniel, why do you suppose he did it?” Miranda said quietly.

“He could be crazy,” Daniel said. “It might be that simple. But…Miranda, it might have something to do with your father.”

“Yes, I thought that,” Miranda said. “But Daniel, he really did love Jardin. I can’t believe that he, well…that he had anything on his conscience.”

“Well, DaSaenz may tell us something himself in a little bit,” Daniel said as he sidled through the final narrow passage. “I certainly plan to have a discussion with him. Until then we don’t have enough information.”